Paul A. Johnsgard, Biol. Sci., Univ. of Nebraska–Lincoln
1. Audubon described and illustrated 39 new bird species and subspecies, of which 21 are still accepted as new species (an unsurpassed American record).
2. He did the first bird-banding in North America, by tying thread around feet of phoebes, and proving site-fidelity (return to prior nest site the following year).
3. He skinned hundreds of birds, several hundred of which went to major museums, and made many new behavioral observations. He was cited three times in C. Darwin’s Origin of Species, the only American to be cited at all, and over 20 times in The Descent of Man. He did field work in many parts of North America, and was the first ornithologist to visit the upper Missouri region, only a few decades after Lewis & Clark, as well as most of eastern North America.
4. He illustrated and published the first book showing all the then-known North American birds (ca. 400) in color and at life size (Double Elephant Folio), in natural environments, and often with appropriate vegetational backgrounds. Later octavo editions reached thousands of readers.
5. With help from his sons & John Bachman, he published the first comprehensive and fully color-illustrated Imperial Folio book on American mammals, with 155 plates and 147 forms (ca. 120 now-recognized species). Audubon and Bachman jointly described five still-recognized species (Yellow-bellied Marmot, Ring-tailed Ground Squirrel, Eastern Harvest Mouse, Red Wolf & Black-footed Ferret) plus five subspecies; Bachman also described nine additional still-recognized species plus four subspecies. Three later octavo editions were also published.
6. Examples of some of Audubon’s specific discoveries or contributions to ornithology:
a. He examined anatomy (especially tracheal, esophageal), noting foods, often weighing specimens. (e.g., he found that gull-billed terns eat insects, not fish).
b. He tried to determine and illustrate age, sex and seasonal variations.
c. He discovered that the white form of reddish egret is only a color morph.
d. He discovered that some birds can pick up eggs with beak and move them.
e. He observed that swifts (“ swallows”) don’t hibernate, as had been widely believed.
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Chancellor, J. 1978. Audubon, A Biography. Viking, New York, NY.
Dwight, E. H. 1963. Audubon the artist. Audubon Magazine, Jan-Feb., 1963.
Ford, A. 1964. John James Audubon. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Herrick, F. H. 1917. Audubon the Naturalist. Appleton & Co., New York.
Parkes, K. 1985. Audubon’s Mystery Birds. Natural History 94(4):88-93.(questionable species)
Rhodes, E. 2004. John James Audubon: The Making of an American. Knopf, New York,